Ear, Nose & Throat

Crackling sound in ear: Causes, Diagnosis & Remedies

Crackling sound in the ear can be a very annoying problem. Our ear is a very delicate organ. If anything happens to our ear, we get troubled a lot. We can tolerate pain or discomfort in other body parts like hands, legs, etc. But, even a slight ear pain makes us worried. Crackling in ear makes us focus on our ears constantly, and we won’t be able to concentrate on other works.

Have you ever heard of the term tinnitus? Well, tinnitus is nothing but the medical term used to describe various sounds in the ear that the person experiences, like crackling sound in ear, ringing, buzzing, whistling, hissing, clicking, popping, etc.

Crackling sound in ear or tinnitus is a very common problem. It is experienced by many people throughout the world. But, the severity of crackling sound in ear can vary greatly depending on the cause of tinnitus.

Some people might have just a very mild crackling sound in ear which is just uncomfortable. While other people might have very severe disabling crackling in ear. People with severe crackling sound in ear can suffer from sleeplessness, anxiety, poor school or work performance, etc. It can affect one ear or both ears, again depending on the cause.

Causes of crackling sound in ear:

crackling sound in ear

Many people ask the questions like ‘why is my ear crackling’ or why do I hear crackling in my ear’. Now you will get answers to such questions.  There are many different causes of crackling in ear. Letus discuss the most common reasons for this symptom.

Ear wax:

Many of us don’t clean the ear wax in our ears. Over the course of time, this ear wax gets accumulated in the ears. It becomes hard and dries up. This hard ear wax rubs against the ear drum and produces certain vibrations, which we feel as crackling sound in ear.

Foreign body in the ear:

If any foreign body gets impacted into the middle ear, it can rub against the ear drum and produce crackling in ears. Sometimes an insect might enter the ears accidentally and get lodged there and produce such a problem.

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Loss of sensory hair cells:

Our inner ear has two parts, they are the cochlea and the vestibule. The vestibule is the organ that is related to balancing the body. The cochlea is the part of the inner ear that is related to hearing. Our cochlea has sensory hair cells.

We can lose these sensory hair cells due to various reasons. The most common reason is the normal aging process. Due to loss of sensory hair cells of the cochlea, a person can experience hearing loss and also crackling sound in ear.

Drugs or medications:

We all know that drugs have side effects. There are many drugs that are ototoxic, that is they have adverse effects on the ear. Some examples of such drugs are NSAIDS (Nonsteroidal antiinflamamtory drugs) like aspirin, ibuprofen, certain types of antibiotics nad certain types of diuretics that flush out excess fluid out of our body. These drugs can damage the inner ear and lead to crackling sound in ear or tinnitus.

Eustachian tube dysfunction:

Have you ever heard of the eustachian tube? It is a tube-like structure that connects our middle ear to the back of our throat or the nasopharynx. It has mainly three functions or uses:

  • Eustachian tube allows free flow of air to and from the middle ear.
  • This tube prevents the backward flow of the secretions from the throat to the ear.
  • It allows the secretions in the ear to drain out and keeps the ear clean.

In Eustachian tube dysfunction (ETD), these normal functions of the eustachian tube get disrupted. This condition occurs due to various reasons like having cold, flu, allergies, etc. If a person gets Eustachian tube dysfunction, the air cannot pass freely through the middle ear, the secretions are not drained out of the middle ear.

This accumulation of secretions makes ear prone to many infections and inflammation or swelling. Due to these reasons, a person with eustachian tube dysfunction develops symptoms like crackling sound in ear, pain in the ear, feeling of fullness in the ear, diminished hearing, vertigo or dizziness, etc.

Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ disorders):

Temporomandibular joint connects the temporal bone behind the ears to the mandible or the lower jaw bone. Sometimes people develop a problem with the TMJ joint due to various reasons like bruxism (biting teeth at night), excessive stress or anxiety, etc.

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TMJ joint problems can produce certain sounds or noises when we chew food or open the jaw (That is using the TMJ joint for various purposes). As the TMJ joint is located close to the ear, we feel like these sounds as crackling sound in ear.

Ear infections:

Sometimes various bacterial or viral infections might attack our ears. They may affect the middle ear causing otitis media or the outer ear causing otitis externa. These infections also make us hear a crackling sound in ear.

Noise trauma:

If you ever happen to witness sudden loud noise anywhere, this might affect your ear and eardrum. This also makes you hear crackling in ears. So, folks stay away from the very loud noise as they are dangerous for our ears.

Some other causes of crackling sound in ear:
  • Autoimmune disorders affecting the ear
  • Tumors affecting the nerves related to hearing (Eg: Acoustic neuroma or vestibular schwannoma)
  • Severe stress and anxiety
  • Accidents while diving
  • Sudden tension or spasm of the middle ear muscles like tensor tympani
  • Trauma leading to brain injury
  • Middle ear bones becoming stiff
  • Cardiac disorders
  • Diabetes mellitus

Diagnosis of crackling sound in ear or tinnitus:

If you experience crackling in ears for more than three to four days, you need to visit your ENT (Ear, Nose, Throat) doctor or surgeon. He will take a detailed history of your symptoms and then perform the physical examination. He will inspect your ear, nose, and throat. He will examine your ears with an otoscope.

He might also conduct certain hearing tests to assess the hearing in your ears (to test the functioning of cochlea of your inner ear). He might also check if you are suffering from any balance related disorders (this is to test the functioning of your vestibule of the inner ear).

If the doctor seems it to be necessary based on your history he might even order a CT scan of the head or some blood tests. Sometimes he might even need to order tests to assess your TMJ joint and neck vertebrae.

Treatment of crackling sound in ear or tinnitus:

After reading all the different causes of ear crackling, and also about the diagnosis of ear crackling, now you might have the question ‘how to get rid of crackling sound in ear’. Lets us discuss how to get rid of crackling sound in ear.

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Stopping ototoxic drugs:

You need to check all your medications and see if anyone of them is ototoxic. If yes you need to stop taking them after taking your physician’s advice. You can shift to some other drug with similar efficacy but not having ototoxic properties.

Treat TMJ problems:

If you are having TMJ problems, you will need to treat it first. You can treat TMJ problem by using a mouthguard which should be placed between your teeth at night. It relaxes the muscles and joint of the TMJ joints and helps to alleviate the symptoms.

Get rid of earwax or foreign body:

If you have earwax or foreign body, then you will need to get it removed by your ENT doctor to reduce the crackling sound in ear.

Therapy using sounds or sound therapy:

In this therapy, an external sound is created and the person’s attention is diverted to the sound rather than crackling sound in ear or tinnitus. Hearing aids help to increase the outside sounds and help to divert our attention.

We can also use background music at low levels to help us achieve this function. But, the sound therapy using any method is only temporary. If we take off this method, the crackling sound in ear returns. So, even though we use such techniques, the main treatment should focus on correcting the underlying cause of crackling sound in ear.

Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT):

In this therapy, we are taught by counselors to accept tinnitus or crackling sound in ear as natural sound and don’t think of it as disturbing sound. It needs regular practice with the help of counselors to be effective. But when done regularly and properly, it provides relief from crackling sound in ear in the majority of the people.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle:

Stress and anxiety are definitely one of the most common reasons for any sort of ailment in the body, including crackling sound in ear. So, we need to improve our overall health. We should practice stress relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation.

We need to eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, pulses, etc. We need to have adequate sleep every day. We need to participate in some form of physical activity or exercise daily. You can do walking, play your favorite sport, etc.

Now you must have understood the various causes of crackling sound in ear, the diagnosis of ear crackling and also the treatment options of crackling in ear. So, consult your ENT doctor as soon as possible for proper diagnosis and treatment.

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